In Dante’s Inferno, the second circle begins the proper punishment of Hell, a place where “no thing gleams.” It is reserved for those overcome with Lust, where carnal appetites hold sway over reason. In Nine Circles, it’s where we do shorter reviews of new (ish) albums that share a common theme.
Here at Nine Circles we’re in a bit of caloric overload, our bodies lethargic and hungover from an overabundance of thanks via massive amounts of alcohol and tryptophan. So you’ll excuse the brevity of the writing for this particular edition of Second Circle. However, not only do we have a theme all set to go with two recent power metal releases that are the opposite of “suck,” but since both Arrayan Path and Almanac have the good alphabetical fortune to begin with the letter “A” it seemed like pushing fate not to get a post up. So take a break from your Black Friday insanity (we’re all waiting for Cyber Monday, right?) and check out some majestic metal below.
I wrote about Arrayan Path back in May in my Nine Circles ov…Power Metal That Eased Me Into Liking Power Metal (Again). Their blend of American style power metal akin to Symphony X crossed with strong European elements – particularly Dawn of Victory era Rhapsody made for a smooth re-introduction to power metal for me, and new album Dawn of Aquarius does nothing to dispel that notion.
A loose concept album centered around Hindu mysticism and the goddess Kali, “Equilibrium” kicks things off with a bang, traditional instruments leading to a Powerslave gallop before Nicholas Leptos’s vocals take the song on a series of ascending and descending paths. The band sounds fantastic: I always have a sore spot when it comes to how power metal is mixed, but Arrayna Path have never sounded better, every instrument given room to breathe and feature, whether it’s the bass and drums locking down the rhythm, the copious amount of guitar solos, or the keyboards, which act as color more than a soloing instrument (usually my preference).
Songs run the gamut of moods, from the stomp and fire of “So It Shall Be Written” and “Empress (Reality of All the Threes)” to the more stately passages of “She Who Is Primordial Wisdom” and “Guardian Angel.” Arrayan Path have been holding steady, churning out solid albums time and again, and with Dawn of Aquarius they feel poised to deliver a power metal masterpiece.
You’re going to read about Almanac and the first thing you’re going to read is they have three vocalists. You’ll probably also read about how this is their second full length in under two years. You might be slowly backing up toward the door, thinking this is surely too much power metal for you to take. I am here to tell you that 1) yes the above two facts are 100% true, and 2) new album Kingslayer is a MONSTER, full of great riffs, solos that will tickle all your sweet spots, and vocals that soar as the majestic eagle without falling into parody or cheese. I don’t know where they found the gas to power another great album after the excellent Tsar in 2016, but they did.
Put together by Victor Smolski after his departure from Rage, Almanac has always had a focus on guitars, but Kingslayer feels like a more cohesive, group effort, despite being even heavier than Tsar. The songs move from progressive to power to just balls out rock. There are moments on opener “Regicide” that echo Dream Theater, but Almanac is never content to rest on one mode of delivery. There’s great neoclassical riffs, keyboards a-plenty and way too many fist-banging moments to count, but if I were to point to a few highlights, they’d be “Guilty As Charged,” “Hail to the King” and “Kingdom of the Blind.”
But really pick any song and dive in. There’s nary a weak moment in Kingslayer, and if this is what Almanac can do on only their second album, I cannot wait to hear what they put up next.
Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, we here at Nine Circles thank you for keeping the metal alive, and will drink a toast to you whenever we get out of this turkey coma we’re in.